Answering the call – the Military and National Service of 14773046 – Signalman Lines R.

My father, Roger Lines, on reaching the age of 18 in May 1944, was conscripted into the Army, under the terms of the National Service (Armed Forces) Act 1939.

Training

He was initially send for Officer Training in Northern Ireland, but was not bossy enough, so was sent to train at Catterick as a Radio Mechanic (Signalman). He was in the General Service Corps from 1st June 1944 to 15th November 1944 – this may have been when he was training. He was transferred on 16th November 1944 to the Royal Signals, where he remained until 4th February 1948.

India

He sailed to India on the Empress of Scotland, which had been Empress of Japan until October 1942, when she was renamed. (My notes say renamed to Princess of Canada, but I suspect this is because she belonged to Canadian Pacific).
I am not sure of the date order of some of these snippets as they come from notes from conversations with my mother, rather than some documented narrative.
He was responsible for the big transmitters which covered all of India when he was attached to GHQ in Delhi.
He spent some time at Quetta, up in the hills.
Tim thinks he may have been at Simla as well.
He fell off a 30′ bamboo ladder while putting up Christmas Decorations and received a scar, which was his war wound.
He went to a Gandhi meeting.
He met Pamela Mountbatten, daughter of Lord Mountbatten, serving coffee in the canteen.
He became a Methodist in the Army, as he had to attend services with some denomination, and they had the best singing.
On being sent to a senior officers house, to mend the radio there, he, along with two Indian servants, was offered refreshments, and in the interests of equality, took one of what looked like a couple of pastries, rather than the nicest looking western cake. It turned out to be a curry puff, and the experience left him with a suspicion of curry from that time on.
He also went trekking in the Himalayas with Martin Grey ? and employed porters to carry luggage.

Discharge and return home

His release from the army is dated 20th November 1947, but as he did not leave the Royal Signals until 4th Febuary 1948, I supect it took him this long to return to England. He told me he spent a long time, with many others, in a holding camp in India waiting for space to be available on a ship.
According to Tim

Pretty sure he didn’t return home until demobbed, and when he did he brought chocolate with him, probably unobtainable in the UK and anyway rationed, but in the Indian heat or perhaps on the boat it had all melted and resembled Aero when it re-congealed.

 

Letters

My father wrote several letters home, some of which have been preserved, and these give some information about what life was like.

He also wrote a letter to the BBC, through me, around 31st December 2005, which I reproduce here.

Dear Sirs, I was recently watching a TV Program inviting people to write in or relate their War Time experiences.
I was called up on my 18th birthday and reported to the Beds and Herts camp. I was then posted to Northern Ireland (thankfully more or less peaceful then).
I enjoyed this period and got to know and like the Ulster folk. I was then posted to Catterick Camp to train as a Radio Mechanic. This lasted about 15-18 weeks. My next posting was to GHQ signals in Quetta (Balochistan). Unfortunately I fell onto a concrete floor of the Barracks and thus spent my first Christmas in Quetta Hospital.
Our boat was the first to go to India after the war ended1 and we were not sure whether the Japanese submarines knew that the war had ended.
At Quetta I had the amazing luck to be present at the last Tribal Durbar (which had gone on unchanged since the rule of Queen Victoria.) The Durbar is held out in the desert so no tribal chief is able to take precedence over the others. The first day of the Durbar is devoted to ceremonial. The Governor General is in full Diplomatic dress, his chest is covered in gold braid and his silver sword gleaming. Each chief bows to the Agent to the Governor General, representing the Crown (George VI at the time). The Indian Army laid on a parachute drop – no doubt to impress the local tribes. The next two days were given over to local sports such as camel, horse and donkey racing, tent pegging etc. It was quite obvious that these second two days were for fun, and quite subsidiary to the first day. That is why they were all gathered together here.
From Quetta to Delhi by train I saw quite a bit of North West India, and later managed to have three short holidays in the foothills of India, as far North West as Sandakphu (13,000 feet) and saw much in the way of Buddhist temples.
I was in Darjeeling when Indian Independence Day took place with much celebration as this area is largely Hindu.
I greatly enjoyed my time in India and fortunately escaped the worst of the communal violence. It was only many years later that I read a full account. During this period when I was back in Delhi I went to one of Gandhi’s Prayer Meetings and was able to take photographs of him quite close up.
Shortly after this I was posted to Deolali Transit Camp and so back to Britain after two and half years in India.

Roger Lines

Notes

First Boat

The first sailing of the Princess of Scotland, to go to India after the end of the war was:

  • From Liverpool on 3rd October 1945 to Taranto on 9th October – 2616 miles
  • From Taranto on 9th October to Port Said on 11th October – 964 miles
  • From Port Said on 12th October to Bombay on 19th October – 2973 miles
Other Notes

I noted these asides while the main letter was being written.

  • he left school at 17 and worked for a year as a forest worker before being called up.
  • he spent as much time as he could Youth Hostelling, while training in Northern Ireland.

Christmas letter from Roger in India, 18th December 1946

This letter, shown as number 15 of the ones my father, Roger Lines, wrote to his parents, referred to as M&D. Unfortunately I do not have the others, which would have given some better record of his National Service. Most of the information I have relies on anecdotes from others.

18th ? December – letter 15

The Usual

Wednesday

Night.

Dear M and D,

The reason why you are getting this letter is that I am on Duty Clerk again tonight, and the light is rather poor to read with. Incidentally it is also to thank you very much for your Christmas card and letter of the 9th. In reply to your queries, I have now got my spectacles, but have heard no more about the watch, so I shall wait a few more days before I liven them up. As to this business about presents I shall certainly send some home, as clothes are not yet rationed here. If you don’t think I can afford to pay for things, then say what you need most and when I send it home you can pay the price into my P.O. account. In this way you can get some things cheaper via Quetta, than buying them in London. I recently bought a nice pair of gloves which have a fur lining right down to the finger tips for 12 chips. In England they cost at least 45 shillings. The other lads buy fancy brass ware, cigarette cases and fancy table cloths which are more for looks than use. If you do not write and tell me what you need most, bearing in mind the restrictions of a previous letter, I shall send you a large size brass elephant which can be used to get in ones way and collect the dust.

Woollens and silks, especially the latter are the most expensive things out here, and a made to measure tweed suit cost about 100 chips without a waistcoat. You can get sheets, pillow slips, English Morley socks, towels, dress lengths, silk pyjamas, scarves etc. here, but films are bad and so are rubber goods such as hot water bottles.

The new shoes I have got are quite comfortable, though I only wear them on special occasions, as although shoe repairs take 2 days it costs 7/6d to have a pair soled and heeled with good leather. I sold the others to a fellow here who they fit quite well. Richard wrote to me yesterday and also sent a Christmas card, so I must write back to him as soon as I have finished this letter. He has been over Battersea Power Station, where he was much impressed by the quiet and the way that everything, even the boilers were remote controlled. Quetta is in a plain of roughly circular shape, the size of this plain being about 10-12 miles across. All around is a ring of hills, mountains you would call them, which have about three gaps in the circle. through these passes come the roads from Persia, the Indus basin, and Fort Sandeman. The latter being about 300 miles from here, and one of our outposts. There is a towering range of hills behind the camp and about three miles from it called the Murdar Ghar. At present this range, which is nearly 11,000 ft high is covered with snow, and it is expected to stay like this until next spring, when I shall try and climb it, if I am still here. The weather is colder now and there is much more cloud. Formerly we used to have clear blue skies all day long, but now it is much more like England, although mostly the few rainstorms we have had, come at night. Thank you very much for the description of the Bhotan Pine which I read with great interest. Here’s hoping the pen arrives sometime. I have now got quite a row of Christmas cards, – two from Michael, yours, one from Richard and one from Tyrell-Green. I shall always remember his kindness to me while I was at the Holtons.

Very little of importance has happened since I wrote last except for two things (i) A walk into the hills with Luckock and (ii) My work.

(i) On Sunday afternoon I started out with Luckock across the desert plain towards the hills. It is very difficult for me to describe what we did and where we went without a map, so I shall try and make a rough sketch-map in my next letter. I will also spend part of my time in sketching, although I may not send the results home as they will probably be too awful. We walked across the desert for 2 miles or so, then started up a narrow valley, which rapidly grew narrower, until we were walking along in a narrow chasm, only about six feet wide, and with vertical or overhanging rocky walls going straight up for 80-500 ft on both sides. This crack in the rock, for it was hardly more than that continued for ¾ of a mile until eventually we came out into the sunshine, like moles coming out of their tunnels. We were only a quarter of a mile from the dam wall of the Hanna Lake reservoir. This artificial lake is dried up, but was once a mile square. Now all that is left is the cracked muddy bottom, the marks made by the high water level all around the dam. There is a proper cart track down from the lake, and we were soon on the road back to camp. As we walked along this, four Pathars or whatever they were, jumped off their bicycles and said “Salaam Sahib” (Good Day) so we said Salaam back and we soon engaged in a long discussion in Urdu. They wanted to act as guides while we went out on a hunting expedition (safari) and I tried to explain that we were not “burra sahibs” but just poor Signalmen who couldn’t afford such things. Further down the road another man tried to sell us enough wood (lakfri) for 60 men. They can’t distinguish between the B.O.Rs and the Officers I’m afraid. It all helps to improve one’s Urdu however. I am now in charge of the brigade workshops and they expect all sorts of weird things which didn’t come on the course. If I make too many mistakes I expect I may either get down graded in trade or posted to another unit or both. So wish me luck as need plenty of it. You are probably in the middle of Christmas festivities now so Happy New Year, love Roger.

 Notes

Richard Lines

Richard Lines was my father’s cousin, he was the son of Arthur Lines, the younger brother of my Grandfather, George Lines.

Bhotan Pine

This is also known as Bhutan Pine, is native to the Himalayas, and shows that even before he went off to study Forestry at Bangor my father had a keen interest in trees. Indeed many of the pictures he took in India were of trees.

Urdu

My father clearly occupied him time in India learning Urdu, something which I had not known, though I know my Grandfather encouraged learning languages.

Happy Birthday, Tim – letter from Jalapahar, 29th August 1947

My father, Roger Lines, was posted to India for his National Service. I don’t know how much, if at all, he managed to return home during this time, but he did write several letters, some of which I have. This one is to his youngest brother, Tim to wish him a Happy Birthday.

29th August

14778046 SIGMN. LINES

JALPAHAR CAMP

DARJEELING

Dear Tim,

This will probably be a bit early, but better early than late, and it will be the last opportunity for writing till I get back from the trek on the evening of the 6th September. Anyhow before I forget what this letter is about – Happy Birthday ! I suppose you will be going into long trousers soon and then I shan’t recognise you. Have you started growing yet ? or have you decided that chess and the county cricket championship are more important activities. After laboriously working it out on my fingers I see you will have attained the great age of fifteen, only another year and you’ll be able to get married ! if you want to.

As for a birthday present I seem to have got so much out of touch with you that I don’t know what your tastes are, so I shall just have to see if I can pick up something suitable to what I was like at 15. If I can remember that far back.

 I suppose that now you are the only one left at home you are having to do all the chicken feeding, washing up, carrying coal (when there is any) which normally would have been done by one of us, Hard cheese !

I hear that you are all traipsing off to Poole this year, I hope you have a good time and are not too seasick in Jeremy’s sailing dinghy. I suppose you also have a go at making dams and river systems in the traditional Lines spirit, as has been done in the past, and doubtless will be done in the future.

Have you got any plans for the future ? The best thing is to stay on at school as long as you can do as you won’t be able to get such a good start anywhere else; however I am sermonising which is useless on one’s birthday.

So in spite of the ration cuts, eat drink and be merry for tomorrow who knows ? You will also have the doubtful pleasure of seeing my face some time before Xmas so till then I will just say All the Best

from Roger

p.s. I include some snaps.